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The Unknown - 1 John 3:1-3

The spiritual world in which we live with Christ and in fellowship with Him, with the Father, and with each other is a complete mystery to the ungodly. They have no comprehension of who Jesus Christ really is, or who the children of God really are.

1 John 3:1-3; John 16:1-3, 17:25-26; Acts 17:16-23; 1 Corinthians 2:1-12; Romans 8:18-19;

Jul 06, 2014 12:00 AM

I don’t often read a lot of statistics from the pulpit, but I decided to break with tradition and give you some numbers regarding the effects and the popularity of social media.  And of course, my reason for doing this is to make a particular point which our text for today in 1 John 3 provokes us to consider.

According to, Twitter is an online social networking website and microblogging service that allows users to post and read text-based messages of up to 140 characters, known as “tweets”.  Twitter is (as of January 1, 2014) in the top 10 most visited internet sites.

  • Total number of active registered Twitter users - 645,750,000
  • Average number of tweets per day - 58 million (California has 38 million people)
  • Number of days it takes for 1 billion tweets - 5 days
  • Number of tweets that happen every second - 9,100
  • In 2013, Twitter made $405.5 million in advertising revenue


Facebook is the largest online social network.  Founded in February 2004. In 2008 Facebook had 100 million users and as of March 2013 has 1.11 Billion.  (The entire population of India is 1.2 billion; China - 1.3 billion)

  • Total number of monthly active Facebook users - 1,310,000,000 (equals pop of China)
  • Total number of minutes spent on Facebook each month - 640,000,000 (or 1,217 years)
  • Percentage of 18-34 year olds who check Facebook when they wake up - 48%
  • Percentage of 18-34 year olds who check Facebook before they get out of bed - 28%


Why is social media so enormous?  Why do literally billions of people spend hundreds of years of time each month talking to and about each other?  Why is this electronic phenomenon so popular among so many people all over the world?  Why do so many work so hard at self-promotion and maintaining virtual relationships?

I’m sure the answers are many and complicated.  But I believe the primary reason for the stupendous success of social media is because we as fallen human beings are an extremely self-centered race.  Virtually everyone wants others to think they themselves are worth knowing.  Worth being listened to.  People Tweet and Facebook because they believe others should know what they know.  Others should know me because I am important, I am somebody, and because I get fulfillment from others perpetually affirming my worth and bolstering my self-esteem by responding immediately to whatever I tweet or post on Facebook.

Obviously there are a lot of exceptions.  But people universally want to be known by others.  We want to know that others think well of us.  We want to have friends.  We want to be loved (even if we are not quick to love others).  Social media enables people to feel the love, to be known in the world by others even if the vast majority of those others only exist online.  People need to have the sensation that at least in some circles, I enjoy a measure of fame.  Someone somewhere thinks well of me.

Christians are not immune to this desire for attention.  What pastor wants a congregation of 1000 or 10,000 with perpetually pure motives?  Who doesn’t want multitudes to hang on their every word?  Who doesn’t want to be famous, to make a name for themselves in the world?  We all have those feelings at some point.  We don’t want to live our entire lives in total obscurity.  We want to make a difference and we want to have some degree of recognition for having done so.  Everybody wants some kind of trophy on the mantel.  Some sort of degree on the wall.  Some plaque stating his accomplishments.  Some merit badges or medals to pin on his chest.  That is a universal desire we all have.  We want recognition.  We want to be known by others in a good way.

That brings us back to 1 John 3 and this interesting and somewhat troubling text for some.

[3:1] See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.  The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. [2] Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. [3] And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3 ESV)

In the last verse of chapter 2, John has explained how God Himself has given birth to us as His own children.  We are believers in Christ because we have been “born of God”, because He has caused us to be “brought forth”, because the Spirit of God has worked in us so that we can say we have been “born again” in a spiritual sense.

Then John continues to speak in chapter 3 of us who have been “born of Him” as the “children of God”.  Then he makes this very blunt point: The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him (meaning Christ).  But let’s consider this one phrase at a time.

“The world does not know us” - John is saying the unbelieving world, the anti-Christian world, the Babylonish, God-rejecting world does not know us as the children of God.  They do not recognize us as such.  The Father most certainly knows us: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us!  He calls us His children, and we are!  Not only does God know us, He loves us immensely.

But the world--they do not acknowledge us as God’s children, as God’s people.  As far as the world is concerned, there is nothing particularly special about someone who calls himself a Christian.  The world does not realize, nor can they understand that we--WE--believers in the Lord Jesus Christ--are members of the family of God. He is our Father and we are His children because He made us His children.

John gives us the reason for the world’s lack of knowledge of us--The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. When Jesus lived among the people of Israel for 33 years, when He walked among us and taught us the word of God, the world--the unbelieving world--did not know Him.  John says the world does not know us because it did not know Christ.  Jesus said this about himself:

[16:1] “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. [2] They will put you out of the synagogues.  Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. [3] And they will do these things BECAUSE they have not known the Father, nor me. (John 16:1-3 ESV)

[25] O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. [26] I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:25-26 ESV)

Turn with me for a moment to Acts 17:16-23.  Paul paints a very clear picture which illustrates the spiritual ignorance of the world toward God and toward the Lord Jesus:

[16] Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. [17] So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. [18] Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him.  And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?”  Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.

[19] And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? [20] For you bring some strange things to our ears.  We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” [21] Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. (Acts 17:16-21 ESV)

[22] So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. [23] For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. (Acts 17:22-23 ESV)

The people of Athens had many gods.  But they did not know the only God who is real.  He, according to the Athenians and Paul, is the unknown God.  The natural world, the people who are not God’s children, all those who have not yet been born again, do not know, they do not comprehend, they cannot grasp the true identity of the true God.  We all know this to be true based upon the testimony of Scripture in many places.

But that is not the point here.  John is saying to believers, “the world does not know you.”  Once you become a child of God, the world no longer recognizes you for who you are.  And why is that the case?

Beloved, if the world does not know God, if the best the world can do is build an altar to “the unknown god” whoever He or she is; and if the world does not know Jesus Christ, even after He lived among us, miraculously healed the sick, walked on water, raised the dead, and raised Himself from the dead--if the world doesn’t know who He is--then should we be surprised that the world does not acknowledge us for who we are, the children of God?

And that is the point.  We naturally want the world to acknowledge us.  We desire to have people speak well of us and to us.  And as believers, we most certainly want the unbelieving world to understand who we are, that we are not like them, that we have become God’s household, and that we want them to join us.

But they cannot.  They do not know God, or Christ, or us.  They are blind, and deaf, and dead toward spiritual things.  So when you are not popular, and when you only have 5 friends on Facebook, and when no one responds to your tweets--when you get passed over for the promotion at work, when your worldly-wise friends don’t feel comfortable around you any more, when your unsaved relatives think you’re a religious fanatic and do not take you seriously--it is because they do not know you for who you really are: a child of God.

If they knew, if they were able to grasp the new birth and the miracle of regeneration, if they could comprehend that you really are in fact God’s child, . . . They might treat you much differently.  But in reality, the world sees us in a similar way in which it saw the Lord Jesus when He was still in the world.

But for the child of God, what difference does it make to us if the world doesn’t acknowledge us for who we are?  If we are children of God, why should we even care if the world rejects us?  They rejected our Savior!  They had no idea who He really was either.  Look with me for a moment at 1 Corinthians 2.  Paul is speaking to the Corinthian brethren about his previous visit with them when he introduced them to the Gospel:

[2:1] And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. [2] For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. [3] And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, [4] and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, [5] so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

[6] Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. [7] But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. [8] None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1 Corinthians 2:1-8 ESV)

The rulers of this age, those people of this world who are not yet God’s children, they have no understanding of who Jesus really is.  Had they known, Paul says they would not have killed Him.  And of course, had they not killed Him, we would still be dead in our sins.  It was God’s plan to withhold this knowledge from Pilate and Herod and Annas and all those who were primarily responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus.  Paul goes on to explain this by quoting the prophet Isaiah:

[9] But, as it is written,

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,

nor the heart of man imagined,

what God has prepared for those who love him”—

[10] these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit.

For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. [11] For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him?  So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. [12] Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:9-12 ESV)

No one can know God unless He reveals Himself to them by His Spirit.  No one can know the Lord Jesus unless God reveals who He is to a person by His Spirit.  And John takes it a step further by saying no one truly understands who we are as God’s born again children.  But the day is coming when they will all understand even who we are:

[18] For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. [19] For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. (Romans 8:18-19 ESV)

The world does not know us.  We are the spiritual “secret agents” in the world, hiding in plain sight before a spiritually blind world.  They do not know God, they did not and still do not know the Lord Jesus, and they have no comprehension that we who have repented of our sins and trusted in Christ for salvation--they have no idea who we really are.  They are not begging us to friend them on Facebook, and they are not responding to our super-spiritual tweets.

Don’t be disappointed in that.  Our Father knows us.  The Lord Jesus gave Himself for us.  The Spirit of God has granted us the new birth and lives within us.  So if you really need a real friend, one who knows you and understands you and loves you even in spite of who you are, the Lord Jesus will “friend” you.  He is that friend whom the Scriptures say is closer than a brother.  And the Father has gone even further by loving us to such a degree as to save us from our sins by means of Christ’s death for us SO THAT we might be His children.

So if God is for us, what difference does it make if the world knows us or not?  The world doesn’t know us.  In fact, the world is against us.  But God is for us.  So do not fear.

[3:1] See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are.  The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. [2] Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. [3] And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3 ESV)



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